Eleanor Levie HomeAboutEditorial ServicesBooksGallerySpeaker TopicsWorkshopsPast BookingsFree StuffLInks Contact Me

Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Boring vs. badly made

True confessions, and I’m not embarrassed to tell: One, I’m addicted to TV’s Project Runway. You know, the reality show where creative clothing makers compete in challenges week after week until one is chosen as tomorrow’s top designer, and lavished with cash and prizes to set up a biznez.  And two, I LOVE the Quiltart network — the longtime listserv for contemporary art quilters. Many of my “best friends I’ve never met” are fans–and fanatical–about PR (Project Runway, though it has a LOT in common with Public Relations–more on that later). In fact, they are the ones who turned me onto this show in the first place. After each weekly challenge–and we’ve now seen two of season 12, quilt artists rush to post critiques, not only on what the the designers put on the runway, but also on the validity of the judges’ decisions.  It’s all totally relevant to what we do as art quilters: cuz we understand that the rules of great design apply to art in the medium of quilting as easily as they do to wearable art and artful fashion.

The most recent discussion on quiltart was at first devoted to expressing horror that designers with really, really, really lousy workmanship were kept in the competition, while those whose clothes were well constructed but ho-hum got an auf Wiedersehen (kiss goodbye). And I totally agreed with them.

But then Toni of Milwaukee posted on quiltart, and I totally agreed with her: “In all the changes with PR over the years, one rule has prevailed. When confronted with two really atrocious outfits–one dull and one crazy-dull and boring ALWAYS goes home. The thinking is that a designer who does boring work will never amount to much, while one with a promising idea but is over-the-top crazy, can be “molded” or trained. Bad execution can often be overlooked with a good design, but skillful execution will never rescue a poor or boring design. The gal who stayed had a great idea, albeit very ambitious for a one-day challenge.”

Yup, art and design are about concepts that resonate, innovation that’s daring. That’s why, my sisters and brothers, we take delight in the Gees Bend quilts…or other masterpieces where intent and individuality and composition trump traditional rules of quilt construction. That’s why we art quilters require venues out of the mainstream, where our work can be seen and judged without adherence to rules about number of layers, type of stitching, precise 90 degree corners,  perfectly mitered bindings, and neat backs. Our Seamsters’ Union (sic) welcomes outlaws of the outfit and sewing subversives, and we treasure Quilt National, Visions, Art Quilt Elements. Such highly selective venues pay us the honor of defining art quilts broadly.

OK, now: To check out the Project Runway fashions and read the mostly delightfully snarky, no-holds-back commentary, meet me in Tom & Lorenzo’s Lounge.

The vast majority of watchers were sad to see Kahindo Mateene  kicked off Project Runway this past week. She has a wonderful way with African fabrics, and will go far staying true to her Ugandan roots. Just not as a TV contestant forced to work with parachute fabric and precious old-world Euro jewels. We also saw promise in Angela Bacskocky who was sent home the week before.

But PR is about PR. Project Runway has to be aware of relating to the public,  grabbing their attention and keeping them glued. Both the entertainment and the fashion industry have insatiable needs for showmanship as well as for creativity. For new for the sake of new and for surprises. And that extends to the designers themselves. The judges–and the show producers and directors behind them–demand crazy, larger than life personalities on camera. They’ll forgive bad fashion for a while at least, as long as the designers avoid committing the cardinal sin of being boring.

It took me a while to learn this lesson for my presentations for quilt guilds and quilt shops. That’s especially true for my Quilting Project Runway program. I am more than willing to make a complete fool out of myself. And invariably, the quilt guild members who blindly agree to model for me are incredibly good sports. They get to wear my slightly over-the-top fashions along with some absolutely ludicrous accessories. And I get to hope my audiences are so busy laughing over the wacky outfits that no one peers too closely at my workmanship. ..let alone looks at the insides and linings! Here I am in my appliqued kimono that has the word wit repeated in embroidery along the leaf tendrils.  I have all my wits about me, folks! And there’s no business like show business!jester-me

wits jacket



6 Responses to “Boring vs. badly made”

  1. Toni Mitt says:

    I am honored that my observations about PR made your blog, and I love the idea of your Quilting Project Runway! Looks like very much fun.
    When you do log into Tom and Lorenzo’s site and read the comments, I post as “Call Me Bee”, in case you’re interested… 🙂

  2. Maggie Winfield says:

    Eleanor, I too am addicted to PR and love the show warts and all. Often people complain about the snarkieness of the designers, but frankly I love it all. I LOVE fashion and Drama. Your quilting PR looks like so much fun. Do you dress outrageous too?

    • Eleanor says:

      I sure try to, cuz otherwise I can hardly ask the sweet, conservatively dressed guild member who just happens to be wearing the right color pants to agree to put on whatever is in the tote bag she’s handed!

  3. Linda D says:

    I think Toni says it all quite succintly. What I have learned by watching for several years is this: the words “looks like it could be bought in any store” or ” looks like a sale rack dress” damn it for sure. I can usually figure out which of the remaining three will be sent home. Boring is the kiss of death. A feisty designer with so-so skills will make it to the next challenge at least…drama sells! The first half of each season it is easier to figure out who might go home; the second half it gets significantly harder. My husband is not a fan, but we do discuss who is going to win if he is off work and has to watch it!

  4. Linda D says:

    I forgot to remark on your Quilting Project Runway: what fun! I would love to see one of your “shows” in person! Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply